Most of us realize there’s a connection between what we eat and the number on the scale. But healthy eating is about more than just your body weight. When it comes to a healthy heart, what you eat matters. Your shopping, cooking and eating habits play a big role in your heart health and can help you lower your risk of developing heart disease.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States for both men and women and almost all racial and ethnic groups. Several medical conditions and lifestyle choices can put people at higher risk for developing heart disease. Some of these factors, like age and family history, are mostly out of our control, but many of the key risk factors, like high blood pressure and high cholesterol, can be managed by making small changes to what we put into our bodies.
Check out these tips and recipes to get started.
One way you can take control of your heart health is by making heart-healthy choices in the kitchen.
10 Tips for Heart-Healthy Eating
- Eat less saturated fat. Saturated fats come mostly from animal products, like fatty meats and high-fat dairy products. Look for dairy options that are low fat or fat free and use meats such as skinless chicken or lean beef to avoid too much saturated fat.
- Choose low-fat protein sources. Protein is an important part of your diet, but many proteins are also high in fat, sodium or other additives. Fish, skinless chicken, lentils and beans are high in protein and better for you than processed meats like hot dogs or sausage. If you do choose to eat beef or other meats, look for packages with less than 10% fat.
- Cut down on sodium. Most of your sodium probably doesn’t come from the salt you sprinkle on top of your food — more than likely it comes from processed or packaged foods you’re consuming, such as soups, baked goods or frozen dinners. Read the nutrition labels and search for foods and condiments that are labeled “no salt added” or “low sodium.” Learn more about high-sodium foods by checking out the U.S. Food & Drug Administration’s sodium guidelines.
- Eat more fiber. Fiber helps keep your blood sugar in check and lowers your risk of heart disease. Eat a variety of vegetables, fruits, beans and whole grains to be sure you’re getting enough fiber.
- Add more fruits and vegetables to your diet. You can buy them fresh, frozen, canned or dried, but be sure they aren’t full of added sugar or soaked in syrup. Encourage yourself to eat more by cutting them up and storing them near the front of your fridge.
- Control your portion size. Many of us instinctively fill our entire plate with food, but that is often way more than we need. MedlinePlus offers some helpful tips on eating proper serving sizes. For example, a serving of pasta is only half of a cup, and a serving of meat is the size of a deck of cards.
- Use healthier fats in your cooking. You can swap saturated fat products for things like olive oil, low-fat mayo and oil-based salad dressings instead of creamy ones.
- Check food labels. Now that you know some of the things you’re looking for (low saturated fat, low sodium, high fiber), you can start doing some research when you’re out shopping.
- Plan ahead and meal prep. When you don’t have a plan, you’re much more likely to grab fast food or heat up a frozen dinner. If you take the time to plan out your meals, you’ll be able to focus on including fresh, healthy ingredients. Check out Meal Prepping and Planning for a Healthier You to learn more about how to get started.
- Be kind to yourself. You’re not going to eat heart healthy 100% of the time. Enjoy an indulgence or a favorite treat, and don’t get bent out of shape after eating a bag of chips. Focus on eating healthy most of the time and your heart will thank you.
Simple Swaps for a Heart-Healthy Diet
You don’t have to give up all the foods you love to eat a heart-healthy diet. Making small swaps can be a great way to start.
- Replace your full-fat sour cream and butter with some non-fat plain Greek yogurt or salsa on top of baked potatoes or veggies.
- Replace your white rice with something new, like riced broccoli or cauliflower.
- Swap your ground beef for ground turkey or chicken in your chili, tacos or lasagna recipe.
- Try a high-protein meat substitute for your morning sausage or bacon.
- Mash cauliflower or use spaghetti squash in place of potatoes or pasta.
- Pop some popcorn and add some creative spices instead of polishing off a bag of chips.
The Internet is filled with heart-healthy recipes. Take some time to explore different sites, check out your local library for cookbooks and start experimenting until you find some recipes you enjoy. Here are some ideas to get you started:
Million Hearts offers several recipes that focus on heart health.
- Quinoa stuffed peppers – This recipe contains an entire cup of vegetables and uses avocado, quinoa and a bunch of spices to make this filling dish.
- Beef kabobs with avocado tzatziki sauce – This recipe uses fat-free Greek yogurt, extra lean beef and a ton of spices for a high-protein, low-fat dinner idea.
American Heart Association has recipes that use heart-healthy ingredients as well.
- Egg, avocado and black bean breakfast burrito – This recipe uses egg whites, no salt added black beans and salsa to create an easy, high-protein, high-fiber breakfast you can make ahead of time.
- Buffalo chicken salad wraps – With boneless, skinless chicken, low-fat mayo and fat-free yogurt, paired with celery, carrots and lettuce, you’ve got a fun, heart-healthy lunch, dinner or appetizer.
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Healthy Teaching Kitchen offers recipes that you can try as well.
- Chocolate peanut butter smoothie – This recipe calls for low-fat milk, banana and unsweetened cocoa powder to give you a tasty low-fat treat.
- Creamless creamy tomato soup – With olive oil, no salt added tomatoes and some key spices, this soup not only tastes good but is healthy for you as well.
- VA’s Nutrition and Food Services offers several articles related to heart health, cholesterol and blood pressure.
- American Heart Association provides information on many heart conditions, such as heart murmurs, arrhythmia and more.
- American Heart Month: Try These Tips to Stay Heart Healthy details additional ways to reduce your risk for heart disease.
With proper planning, some easy substitutions and a few new recipes, you can put yourself on the path to a stronger, healthier heart!